These are the three greatest sporting moments I’ve seen in the flesh. They happened in three different sports, and they are each great for different reasons. But they were the kind of perfect moments where you feel privileged to be there – moments that make all the dross you’ve sat through the rest of the time seem completely worthwhile.
Andrew Flintoff bowls Jacques Kallis
England vs. South Africa at Edgbaston, 31 July 2008
The highest quality sporting contest I’ve seen between the best two all-rounders of their generation. Kallis had looked different class from any other batsmen on show, Pietersen included*, and played the England attack as though he had all the time in the world. When Flintoff came on he’d already made a serene 50-odd.
But Fred bowled like a lunatic. He was lightning quick, nasty and skilful, and Kallis had to work to his utmost just to get near it. After a succession of play and misses and last-second jabs, Kallis was struck on the toe and England celebrated the LBW. But it wasn’t given and Flintoff was fuming.
Undeterred, he stalked back to his mark and unleashed a succession of fearsome deliveries that Kallis hardly saw. Eventually the South African was bowled by an unstoppable yorker that was through him before he could even twitch. Proper test cricket.
*Saying that, Pietersen did get 94 the next day, despite employing the left-handed sweep almost every other ball.
David Friio scores against QPR
Plymouth Argyle 2, QPR 0, Home Park, 24 April 2004
This was the kind of game you dream about. We were top, they were second. If we won we went up, almost certainly as champions. If we lost, there was a genuine chance Bristol City could catch us and condemn us to the play offs. What’s more, we’d lost our last two games, and seen our God-like manager Paul Sturrock depart to Southampton.
The game itself was unbearable – the tensest, most nervous, and, thanks to the BNP element of Argyle’s casual support, most vicious atmosphere of any game I’ve been to. Danny Dyer would have loved it.
For 80 minutes the two teams slugged it out until Mickey Evans rose from nowhere to head home a David Norris cross. The crowd went wild for a minute, and then settled back down for more anxious sentry duty. Only the odd terrified shout punctured the silence.
There then followed an absolutely horrific goalmouth scramble which went on for thirty seconds or more, the ball bouncing uncontrollably around our penalty area with at least four QPR players seeming to miss open goals. Eventually, Argyle centre half Graham Coughlan stretched out from the prone position to side-foot the ball into touch from inside his own six yard box. The roar that followed this fluffed clearance was greater than that which greeted Evans’ goal. It was that kind of game.
And then suddenly David Friio was one-on-one with the QPR keeper and he scored and he ran into the Devonport End and we were up. Relief. Elation. The perfect end to an appalling afternoon.
Fred Lewis homers off Scott Feldman
Texas Rangers 4, San Francisco Giants 6, AT&T Park, 19 June 2009
When we went to see the Giants last month, I insisted we get tickets in the bleachers on the off chance we’d see a home run hit into McCovey Cove. I didn’t know much about baseball in San Francisco, but I had seen endless footage of Barry Bonds blasting the ball over the right-field wall and into the Pacific Ocean.
Initially, things went badly. We could only get tickets in left-field, not right-field, and the San Francisco summer was living up to Mark Twain’s scathing review. The situation worsened further when Will, who was accompanying me, looked at the board on the right-field wall and saw 48 balls had already been hit into McCovey Cove that season. The chances of it happening again must be fairly be good, he reasoned. He was less-impressed when I told him that 48 was actually the all-time figure.
Frozen by an icy ocean wind, we headed for more sheltered accommodation and were delighted to find we could stand in the relative warmth of the right-field bleachers. The San Francisco crowd were buoyant, 300 game winner Randy Johnson was pitching solidly, and the Giants were well in the game.
And then Fred Lewis drilled one onto the right field wall, about 15-yards from where we were standing (on the video I’m wearing a grey jumper, at the very bottom of the screen).
Admittedly the ball bounced first, so it doesn’t count in the records as a McCovey Cove home run. But it still went in the ocean, and I still got to see the man in the canoe paddle over to collect the ball, just as I’d planned. And when you’re watching live sport, it’s very rare that a moment comes together as perfectly as you’d hoped it would.